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The Father of Goguryeo, King Dongmyeongseong

2011-01-07

Stories about epic archers always arouse curiosity. Like many other countries around the world, Korea has a legendary archer in its history; one that appears in many historic records as the founder of Goguryeo.

The epitaph on King Gwanggaeto the Great’s gravestone begins with a story about the birth of King Dongmyeongseong. It reads, “I’m the son of Heaven and my mother is the daughter of the god of rivers.” Goguryeo people took pride in their divine roots. Details about King Dongmyeongseong’s birth in 58 B.C. are found in the History of the Three Kingdoms “Samguk Sagi,” which was written in the 12th century. The ancient text says that Dongmyeongseon’s father was the son of heaven and the daughter of the god of rivers.

From his early childhood, Dongmyeongseong looked stronger and smarter than other children. At age 7, he made a bow and an arrow by himself and impressed everyone around with his accurate shooting skills, earning himself the nickname “Jumong,” meaning “a person who shoots arrows well.” But his talent also made him an object of jealousy among the royal family, who wanted to kill him. Jumong took his mother’s advice and left his hometown, Dongbuyeo, to escape with his life. In 37 B.C., he founded a new state known as Goguryeo, which was the center of Northeast Asia for seven centuries.

Shortly after Jumong became king, he attacked the neighboring Malgal tribe and in 36 B.C. defeated King Songyang of Biryu. Several years later, Jumong conquered two more states, Haengin and Okjeo, but his military force was not his only advantage. Historic records praise Jumong for his excellent leadership skills and generosity. When he was escaping from Buyeo, he hired people dressed in hemp cloths and woven straw as his subordinates in order to win over the native people of the new land without physical force. His marriage to the daughter of the local chief was also a gesture of good will, which made him a genuine leader.

Jumong died during the 18th year of his reign, in 19 B.C., at age 40. He was worshipped and admired by his descendants and described in historic records as a wise monarch and national hero who overcame great hardships. He ushered in a new era thanks to his courage and strong leadership. His heroic acts may be a little exaggerated in historic documents but they no doubt represent the roots of the Korean nation.

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